'It is how we will be judged': Obama announces widest gun control measures in 18 years
WASHINGTON: The US President, Barack Obama, has announced sweeping gun control measures, calling on Congress to act fast to reintroduce a ban on assault rifles and to introduce a ban on high capacity magazines, as well as expand mandatory background checks to all gun sales.
This is our first task as a society – keeping our children safe. It is how we will be judged.
Should the measures be passed they would be the most significant new laws on gun control created in the US since 1994.
Sweeping measures: US President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, announces his proposals to reduce gun violence. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP
Making his announcement before four children who had written to him asking for action after the Sandy Hook massacre, he then sat before the assembled audience and signed 23 executive actions – orders he can issue without Congressional action – he believes will help cut gun violence.
They include instructing the Centre for Disease Control to study gun violence (doctors had been banned from gathering data or discussing guns with patients under regulations backed by the National Rifle Association), increasing funding for security in schools, nominating a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, increasing access to mental health treatment and instructing government agencies to share information for the background checks.
He acknowledged the political fight to have the measures passed would be long and difficult, but declared, “This is our first task as a society – keeping our children safe. It is how we will be judged.”
President Obama high-fives eight-year-old Hinna Zejah, one of four children who had written to him asking for action after the Sandy Hook massacre. Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters
He said the measures he was announcing were not only intended to help prevent future mass shootings, but also the daily toll of gun violence in America. He noted that since 20 children and six adults were shot in Sandy Hook a further 900 people had died “at the end of a gun” in America.
In the audience watching the announcement were Chris and Lynn McDonnell, the parents of seven-year-old Grace who was killed in Sandy Hook. He said for them time since the killings had been measured in seconds and minutes rather than in days.
Also in the audience was Colin Goddard, who was shot four times in the Virginia Tech massacre. He earlier told the Vice President, Joe Biden, that he was in the audience not because of what happened to him, but because “what happened to me keeps happening to other people and we have to do something about it.”
Chris, left, and Lynn McDonnell, parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School student victim Grace McDonnell, attended President Obama's announcement at the White House. Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters
“Colin, I promise you we will,” said Mr Biden, who had put the package of reforms together on behalf of Mr Obama.
Minutes after the President spoke the Texas representative Steve Toth appeared on CNN to say God conferred rights upon the people, not the Congress, and he would introduce legislation that would make it illegal for federal agents to enforce the laws in Texas. A similar bill has already been introduced in Wyoming while other states and counties are considering following suit.
Constitutional lawyers could argue federal law overrides state law, should the laws be challenged.
The Floridian Republican senator, Marco Rubio, considered a potential future presidential candidate, quickly came out opposing the proposed ban on military-style rifles.
"I think it's completely misplaced. Because here's the issue in this public policy debate that's different from others: There is a constitutional right to bear arms," he told the Laura Ingram radio show.
"I did not create that and he cannot erase that. It is in the Constitution. If they want to change the Constitution, if they want to believe the Second Amendment should not be in there or if they believe it should be rewritten in the 21st century then let them have the guts to stand up and propose that."
He also condemned the President for choosing to share the stage with children as he made his announcement.
"I think most of us would have preferred if it just had been a straightforward address to the country because it implies that somehow those of us who do not agree with his public policy prescriptions don't equally care about children."
There was also much discussion today of a new advertisement released by the National Rifle Association which calls the President an elitist hypocrite because his children are protected by armed guards, but he does not support the NRA's proposal to install armed guards in all American schools – rather he wants to make them “gun-free zones”.
Though recent polls have shown a majority of Americans support some increased gun controls – especially with regards to background checks – there is no certainty any of the measures he has proposed will become law.
As he finished speaking the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said the House would consider any bills when and if they were first passed by the Senate. And even though Democrats control the Senate, many of them are backed by the NRA and are sympathetic to its cause.
Over the weekend even the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, called for caution in acting on guns.
In 1994, then-president Bill Clinton championed a ban on assault rifles that expired 10 years later.
That ban is thought to have cost the Democratic Party its control of the House and is one of the reasons the party has since been so fearful of gun control. Recent analysis shows the coalition of voters that supported the President in the recent election broadly support gun control.